Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic

With a sudden flash and a few sparks of electricity, I was gone from Europe and found myself in the even less familiar environs of Purdy, MO, where I got to talking with Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic. They’re currently developing their first original project, an action-RPG named Delver’s Drop. There’s a whole heap of interesting things going on with the game and the team themselves. Read on to find out more!

 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic
Meet Ryan Baker, Vision Director at Pixelscopic.
Hey there, Ryan! So, first-off, can you introduce us to yourself and the team?
Hey! Sure thing. I’m Ryan Baker, and I’m the Vision Director of Pixelscopic. Essentially I’m the Creative Director here. I also work with Coby who is my business partner and co-founder to determine our company’s vision and direction. In terms of production, I do all of our illustration and some graphic design and animation.
There are four people on the team: two programmers, Coby and Ankur, and two artists, myself and another Ryan (Burrell). We work with a decent number of contractors here and there, no-one super-permanent but at any given time we might have maybe four other people on a freelance basis.
How did you get into videogames development? What is your personal story?
I went to college and studied for a BFA in painting, graphic design, and illustration at MSU. I was looking for a graphic design job after I graduated, and a friend of mine working for Black Lantern Studios, who are another game company in our locale, mentioned that they had an opening for a contractor working on sprite animation.
At the time they were making Game Boy Advance games, and it turned into a full-time position for a month or two, and when that was ending I decided that it was something I wanted to do on a more permanent basis, and I had been coming up with game design ideas for years. So I joined up and started as an artist and sprite animator there and ended up being the Art Lead on a project after a year, and then I became Creative Director around a year or so after that. I was there for something like four and a half years. We made games so quickly that I have something like 30 credits to my name.
pixelscopic moshi monsters moshling theme park 3ds 1 150x150 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic
Pixelscopic recently collaborated with Black Lantern Studios on Moshi Monsters Moshlings Theme Park for Nintendo DS.
After a while I began to develop a hunger to develop an IP from scratch – Black Lantern focused more on licensed games – and so I quit, lining up enough freelance work that I could keep myself afloat while I figured out a best-plan for everything. Around this time, Coby moved back to the US after a period living in Mexico, and decided to start up a business in Purdy, Missouri, a small town close to where he grew up. We opened in early 2010, doing a lot of contract work. Building on that base, we started to lay a solid foundation for the development of our first original project: Delver’s Drop.
I’ve maintained a good relationship with Black Lantern and we even collaborated recently, co-developing the Moshi MonstersDS games with them.
“It was great to have the opportunity to be a part of something that we simply couldn’t have done on our own.”
How was the Indie Megabooth for you? What did you learn from it? Do you intend to be a part of it in the future?
It was great. Not having exhibited before, we learned a lot. Kelly and the team were great at helping us through all the various hoops that go into organizing these things. Working with all these other studios was great, too. It was humbling to work with so many talented individuals.
The biggest takeaway from the experience was seeing that you didn’t need this big triple-A booth, or this super-slick trailer – we still don’t have a finalized trailer for Delver’s Drop – in order to succeed. We were terrified that we would end up embarrassing ourselves with a game that wasn’t perfect.
Yet after we had people come to our booth, see our game and even compliment us on it, it was amazing to see their reactions. Everyone was so receptive and positive to what we’re doing, and we got some great feedback and criticism. It was this weird moment of ‘Oh wow, people actually like coming to our booth and want to be involved?!’. We’d figured that, as an unknown studio with this prototype game on display, we’d have been ignored and left in a corner. It was great to have the opportunity to be a part of something that we simply couldn’t have done on our own.
One of our artists, Ryan Burrell, helped develop the website for the Megabooth, too. It was a really great experience just getting to know all the people involved. We hope to be veterans for next time, for want of a better word. We’re interested in helping out not just through suggestions, but through active contribution in any way we can.
We absolutely will be part of the Megabooth in the future. We’ll be at the next PAX East in March 2013.
pixelscopic ankur 610x405 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic
Ankur Sharma (far right) demonstrating Delver’s Drop at the Indie Megabooth at PAX Prime.
“We have this idea involving steampunk-style tubes…”
Delver’s Drop is a 2D action-RPG. What makes it stand out?
Yeah, that’s the game at its core, but we’re introducing elements from so many sub-genres to create this unique combination on top of that. There are some roguelike aspects, a bit of traditional RPG leveling and skill progression, and a Diablo-style loot drop system. We want it to be this sweet spot of satisfying the action/combat of a Zelda-style game, while adding some interesting physics and different ideas that you don’t usually see all at once, but that appear on their own in other games.
There are all these games that are picking up on these individual threads, but not many that seem to be combining them in the way we are for Delver’s Drop.
We’re doing interesting things with the story, too. We’re working on methods of telling the story through the environment, a sort of ambient narrative for the player. For instance, we have this idea involving steampunk-style tubes that will carry sounds from elsewhere in the castle where the game takes place, giving you hints on what’s happening elsewhere. It’s driven by a desire to avoid the typical pattern of approaching NPCs and pressing a button to skip through dialogue with them. We want to offer players the chance to take in the narrative if they choose, or else to blast through the story without being held up.
So the game is still in the early stages of development, right? How is everything going?
Yeah, development is going great. We’ve been spending a bit of time deciding how to move forward with a few of the next stages in development, but everything is on course for our scheduled release date of summer 2013. Barring famine, flood, or other disasters, that is still the plan!
pixelscopic delvers drop shot 610x381 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic
Delver’s Drop has some really interesting riffs on the action-RPG formula.
What engine are you using for the game?
We’re using a proprietary engine. There has never really been a good, out-of-the-box 2D engine, except for, to a certain degree, Adobe’s Flash, which suffers from its own issues with compatibility. So we wanted to make an engine that could easily and efficiently support high-resolution 2D graphics with highly elaborate animations. I mean, we’re big fans of whatVanillaware has done with Muramasa: The Demon BladeDragon’s Crown, and Princess Crown. We eventually want to support that level of 2D animation which, while possible with something like Unity, is cumbersome to do in an engine more tailored for 3D development.
We’ve got this really efficient process that Coby has developed whereby he can distribute the game code natively to a whole range of platforms. It makes things a lot easier than developing separately for a platform such as iOS or PC, for instance. It prevents us from ever having to port anything.
Do you intend for it to be primarily a single-player, or multiplayer experience?
A lot of people have asked us about that, and the short answer is that it will probably be just a single-player game. We had some ideas for multiplayer, but it would wound up as something too radically different from the single-player experience. We tried co-op, but the limitation there is confining both players to the same screen space. We’re focused on having the game ready by a set timeframe, and the more complicated multiplayer options would be too labor-intensive to keep us on track.
pixelscopic ios 610x406 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic
Although still in the prototype stage, the game looks great on iOS.
You’ve worked on a couple of DS games before. What inspired the move to iPad/iOS?
Our previous work on the DS has been sub-contracted from Black Lantern, and when we founded Pixelscopic, we decided that iOS was a better bet as a platform on which to focus. So we developed all of our tools with that in mind. It’s only been in the last year that we’ve been looking to areas like PC and Android. In fact, PC and Mac will likely be our lead platforms forDelver’s Drop. We have looked into the possibility of other consoles, but there’s nothing final to announce right now in that regard. We’re also very interested in examining the possibility of bringing the game to Ouya once that console releases.
What is most frustrating about being independent?
[Laughs] Well with our current status as a new team, the most challenging aspect is keeping a steady flow of money. There are a lot of challenges, but that is the most obvious obstacle to development overall. We’ve taken a lot of contract work over the last couple of years, and we’re hoping that at some point, especially once we get Delver’s Drop out, that there will be enough revenue that we can move straight onto the next game, and get into a comfortable, sustainable cycle of ‘make a game, earn money, make another game’. Of course, with each subsequent project, you want to be more ambitious but our primary goal is to get that cycle in place.
What makes all of it worthwhile is getting to see people reacting to your work. Having people gravitate to and enjoy your work is great. Another rewarding side is learning to balance creativity with efficiency. I have a tendency to really refine things to this extreme level, and you cannot do that forever – at some point you have to release a game. If I had my way, I could do concept art all day.
Finally, what’s the most cherished trophy in your gaming life?
pixelscopic game boy 300x200 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic
Ryan’s classic 1989 Game Boy, and it’s younger, sleeker sibling, the Game Boy Color.
I have an embarrassingly large game collection. I still own every system I ever had. I’ve still got my original gray brick Game Boy on display here. I think that would probably be it. Handheld systems were always the ones where I did the majority of my gaming as a kid. It still works great, too!
I got my Game Boy and a black case to hold the games when I was like 7 or 8… so back in 1989 or so. Those sheets of paper are covered in passwords – I’m not even sure what games some of them are for now, but mostly Mega Man if I had to guess.Rolan’s Curse (pictured on the screen) was the first action RPG that I ever played (and beat) when I was a kid. It’s kind of a slower-paced Zelda knockoff, but had this interesting system that forced you to pick a single extra item for your second button slot (no further inventory) so it felt like it had this real risk/reward in what item you chose. I used to grind for more armor like crazy.
Excellent! Ryan, thanks for your time, and good luck with development.
Thanks very much!
Delver’s Drop is still in development. You can get more information on the game from its website, or read more about Pixelscopic on theirs.

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